Freeburg Forum was packed at last week’s ASCMC Senate meeting with students who had been told there was a surprise awaiting them. No, it wasn’t the food — although there was plenty of that. The surprise was incoming CMC President Hiram Chodosh. In many ways, Chodosh’s interaction with Senate was exactly what we needed to hear. He gave a very brief speech at the beginning of the meeting and then turned the floor over to questions and comments, demonstrating his desire to have a long-lasting dialogue with students. The way he answered students’ questions was diplomatic and no less forthcoming than we could have expected from someone who, by his own admission, is not familiar with many aspects of CMC yet. However, Chodosh’s response to a student asking him about his vision for the school raised more questions for me than it answered.
Chodosh answered the question with a question: “How do we get really rigorous learning and capacity in our students that carries them for a lifetime” while also being practical? He said that the way to do this was to focus on what he called the “double helix” that runs throughout Claremont McKenna, the intersection between pragmatic leadership and the liberal arts. Specifically, he suggested focusing more on the liberal arts half of that model in the years to come.
But this view seems to run counter to the way that many CMC students feel about our school. Focusing more on the liberal arts here was certainly was not something I would have described as necessary as my first year here comes to a close. In fact, the balance that exists now at Claremont McKenna between the liberal arts and leadership is one of the main reasons I chose to come here in the first place.
To be clear, this is not an indictment of Chodosh’s vision for the school. It may be exactly what Claremont McKenna needs to succeed in the future, but it is not clear that this is the case. Chodosh needs to communicate to the students why this focus on the liberal arts is necessary for a school that has always prided itself on not being a typical liberal arts college.
Perhaps he views CMC’s perceived over-emphasis on the Economics department as problematic given the changing dynamic between Economics and other departments, and the way that the number of Economics majors has skyrocketed. This is merely speculation but Chodosh should describe his vision for the college as he transitions into his role as President.
At the same time, he needs to explain in the months ahead what it means to focus more on the liberal arts. Does it mean more general education requirements, a wider variety of classes we can take to fulfill general education requirements, new departments and majors, all of those things, or none of those things? He touched on requiring a broader array of classes during his talk to Senate when he said that in light of global circumstances, making an impact in public policy or economics has to “include STEM disciplines” (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.) Here, Chodosh succeeded in describing what his vision concretely meant and why it was necessary better than at any other point during his discussion with Senate. Going forward, I hope to see the rest of his vision fleshed out as well.
Chodosh has years to continue communicating with the student body and lay out his vision for the school in detail. We cannot and should not expect him to know exactly in what direction he wants to lead our school, but it is vital that he communicate to students what his vision means and why it is important for the success of our school.